Stefania Tutino

Sep 15, 2021

A Fake Saint and the Real Church

The Story of a Forgery in Seventeenth-Century Naples

Oxford University Press 2021

Stefania Tutino, Professor and Peter Reill Chair in European History at UCLA talks about her new book, A Fake Saint and the True Church: the Story of a Forgery in Seventeenth-Century Naples (Oxford UP, 2021), why history remains relevant and also very fun, and the role of narrative and historical imagination in the development of compassion for our fellow humans. This episode is as much a lively conversation as an interview about some fascinating subject matter. 

A Fake Saint and the True Church uncovers the remarkable story of a fake saint to tell a tale about truth. It begins at the end of the 1650s, when a large quantity of forged documents suddenly appeared throughout the Kingdom of Naples. Narrating the life and deeds of a previously unknown medieval saint named Giovanni Calà, the trove generated much excitement around the kingdom. No one was more delighted by the news than Carlo Calà, Giovanni's wealthy and politically influential seventeenth-century descendant. Attracted by the prospect of adding a saint to the family tree, Carlo presented Giovanni's case to the Roman Curia. The Catholic authorities, however, immediately realized that the sources were forged, and that Giovanni was not real (let alone holy). Yet, it took more than two decades before the forgery was exposed: why?

Vividly reconstructing the intricate case of the supposed saint, Stefania Tutino explores the tensions between historical and theological truth. How much could the truth of doctrine depend on the truth of the facts before religion lost its connection with the supernatural? To what extent could the truth of doctrine ignore the truth of the facts without ending up engulfed in falsity and deceit? How could the absolute truth of theology relate to the far less absolute certainty of human affairs?

This story of a fake saint illuminates early modern tensions. But the struggles to distinguish between facts, opinions, and beliefs remain with us. Examining, as this book does, how our predecessors dealt with the relationship between truth and authenticity guides us too in thinking through what is true and what is not.

Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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Jana Byars is the Academic Director of Netherlands: International Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender.

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